In a report issued Thursday (PDF), a group of Canadian drug policy experts at the Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction recommend that the Harper administration immediately take up decriminalization of all drugs as the first step toward fundamentally reforming the nation’s drug war to fight addiction instead of the Canadian people.
“While countries all around the world are adopting forward-thinking, evidence-based drug policies, Canada is taking a step backwards and strengthening punitive policies that have been proven to fail,” experts wrote, noting the Harper administration’s hard rightward swing.
The administration recently joined U.S. drug warriors in focusing military assets on eradicating drug crops in south America, even after the prime minister himself admitted that the drug war “is not working.”
“The findings of this report, based on interviews with changemakers and service providers, and scans of important documents and research, reveals that Canada is at a crossroads when it comes to drug laws and policies,” the report’s executive summary explains. “A new direction in drug policy is required. We can continue to work within the paradigm of drug prohibition or we can begin to explore alternative approaches and chart a new course that can help save lives, respect human rights and be more cost effective.”
Their top recommendation, mentioned before all others, is the decriminalization of all currently illicit substances for personal use, along with the establishment of a regulatory system that allows adults to responsibly use marijuana. Once that’s done, experts recommended working to reduce the stigmas associated with people who use drugs in order to help overcome some of the social barriers addicts face in seeking treatment.
Likely their most controversial recommendation is step three: harm reduction policies, like supplying clean needles to heroin addicts and clean pipes for crack cocaine users, making drug-replacement therapies available to opoid users, and even allowing heroin addicts a sterile injection site with medically pure, measured doses, then following up with the patient about rehabilitation services.
“Canada has good people working at every level from front line services and organizations to provincial and federal ministries, whose efforts are severely hampered by fear, lack of leadership, and poorly informed policies based on outdated ideas and beliefs about drugs and the people who use them,” they wrote. “At the same time, a global movement of sitting and former political leaders is emerging that acknowledges the over-reliance on the criminal law in addressing drug problems is causing more harm than good.”
“Canada must join the chorus of voices around the globe calling for change,” the summary concludes. “This report is a call for Canadians to meet these challenges head-on with creative thinking and brave policy changes.”
[Photo: A drug addict prepares to inject himself. Via Shutterstock.com]